By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily News
RUDYARD - It's nachos and neon lights, pool tables and peanuts, barstools and bowling lanes. In appearance, K-Lines bar and bowling alley in Rudyard is not much different than a thousand other joints across the country.
What separates this bowling alley from the rest is the kid-friendly atmosphere. Here, kids seem oddly appropriate.
In any other bar, seeing a kid happily ensconced with the big-screen TV and snacking on peanuts might be cause for alarm. Here it is not only accepted but encouraged.
One is left with the distinct impression that at K-Lines, kids are important to patrons and owners alike. On any given night you might see parents lined up to proudly watch their children racking up impressive scores on the lanes.
It's all part of the philosophy of new owners Chris and Dusty Kline. The brothers purchased the business formerly known as K-Lanes from the Vukasin family about two months ago, and have worked hard to avoid the stigmas attached to most bars.
"We want this place to be different," Chris said. "If it was just a bar, I couldn't do it. You have to have something to go along with it."
Chris, who recently returned to Rudyard after 18 years in larger cities across Montana, is described by one patron as "the PR man." The more vocal of the brothers, Chris is a natural behind the bar, calling customers by name and remembering drinks.
Dusty, more reserved than his brother, is the self-described "cheap labor." Although he is often busy on his farm north of Kremlin, he manages to find time to devote to his new business.
"It's a lot of fun," Dusty added. "A lot of work, but a lot of fun."
For the brothers, the bowling alley represents the beginning of a dream.
"The opportunity arose and we jumped on it," Chris said. "Everyone from the community has been really supportive. I used to bowl here, but I never thought I'd own this place."
The brothers spend most of their time learning the ins and outs of operating a bowling alley on a daily basis, adding carpet and maintaining occasionally stubborn machines.
"We're learning the ropes, sort of a trial by fire," Chris said.
For the Klines' mother, Shirley, the new investment represents the end of an era. Shirley owned the historic Bank Bar in Rudyard, which her sons bought and closed when they took over the bowling alley.
"It was an economic decision," Chris said. "This town can only support one bar."
Located just down the street from K-Lines, the Bank Bar has been in the Kline family since 1933.
The establishment's moniker is less a name than a historical reference. The building served as a bank from 1907 to 1929, and the large walk-in safe is functional to this day.
The brothers said they have no concrete plans for the bar, but intend to protect its historical value.
"It will stay like that for as long as we can feasibly keep it," Dusty said.
Shirley said she was excited when her sons approached her about closing the bar.
"I didn't hesitate," she said. "I had mixed emotions, and it was hard, but it was the right decision."
Shirley continues to keep busy by offering her sons advice earned through years of bar-owning experience and by working with young keglers to improve their games.
Shirley, who carried a 180-plus average for more than 25 years, is in the Montana Bowling Hall of Fame. She received the Interna-tional Bowling Award through the American Bowling Alliance in recognition of outstanding work in junior bowling. She also is a former state champion.
Chris said he wanted to return to Rudyard because the pace of small-town life appeals to him.
"It's a good place to raise kids, and everyone looks out for each other," he said.
As if on cue, his daughter and two friends appear to regale him with tales of track practice. Their stories of arduous uphill runs are rewarded with cups of a curious pink concoction - alcohol-free of course.
Later in the evening, a group of young bowlers arrive. The Klines sponsor local junior bowlers, and each is given three free games. Several have received scholarships from the local chapter of the the Youth America Bowling Alliance, which has members as young as 4 years old.
Bowling is important in this town, and it shows. Parents offer tips and encouragement to a 7-year-old boy. One lane over, his 9-year-old cousin rolls a red, white and blue bowling ball in near perfect form.
Judy Spinler, the alliance bowling coach, said she is consistently amazed by the talent of young bowlers. She plans to work with the Kline brothers to install video equipment that will be used to analyze bowling form.
"It will really benefit the kids," she said. "Younger kids in particular learn faster if you can actually show them what it is they need to do."
Perfect form is certainly desirable, but at K-Lines, the game is all about having a good time. The brothers plan to offer disco and laser light bowling sometime in the near future, Chris said.
Ask Blue Sky High School senior Becky Kimmet why she comes to K-Lines to bowl, and you'll receive a two-word answer: "It's fun."